Adjust your expectations

Why is it that I continue to believe that it is possible to be friends, or even more than friends, with an ex and still remain emotionally detached? Maybe it’s something that comes easily to men – hell, maybe it comes easily to other women – but I seem to find it impossible.

I keep letting myself get sucked into this cycle of doom which inevitably ends with me feeling rejected, taken for granted, de-prioritised, shelved – essentially just ‘less than’: less than I was before, when my partner was feeling intoxicated by our love affair; less than I was when he wanted to hold my hand, and share every thought and hold me in his arms, discussing the future.

I tried so hard to just keep it casual, nothing more than a diversion, but just as internet dating seems to involve a lot of people who want to have a bit of a diversion via the medium of the small screen, so my ex now seems to have joined their ranks. I ask for a meet up ‘in real life’ and he suddenly disappears for 24 hours only to come back with reasons he can’t make it – too tired, work commitments, etc.

I point out, to myself, that I am looking at my ex through rose-coloured glasses – at the end of the day (apologies to my dad for using one of his most hated clichés 😉 ) he is a 52 year old man (my ex, not my dad!) who has flaws and annoying stuff about him and we have clashing interests and we’re at different life stages and it’s not the dream, it’s not the fantasy, it’s just someone – someone who I thought cared or who had the capacity to give me what I needed. But he doesn’t.

Once again I am reminded that one of the toughest things to control in relationships whether they be old or new, casual or serious, is your own expectations. As soon as you start projecting your desires onto the situation you are on very shaky territory because there is no way of second guessing how the other person is thinking or feeling. Even if they seem to be on board, sometimes, in their own mind, they have already cast off the lifeboat under cover of darkness and prepared for a swift getaway.

“Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises”. Shakespeare’s way of saying “expectation is the root of all heartache”. Which just goes to show that no matter how mundane your failed love life might be, the way you feel is probably universal and ageless.

At least I’m not alone.

Baggage

I’ve come to a conclusion about my love life – or at any rate my love life as of 2017. Pretty obvious really but it’s still taken me this long to put it all in perspective.

I would say that there are numerous men out there who have no initial problem with dating a single mum but  everyone’s situation is different and what comes to light over the course of a few weeks or months is that background issues become apparent. In my case, right now I would have to admit that the Husband is still just a little bit too present in my life – and not in a good way.

I can imagine being a man dating me – little by little finding out that my not yet ex husband and father of my young children is what I describe as a “high conflict personality”, with a personality disorder who is full of bitterness towards me but still seems to want to reconcile at times.

The fact that he is also a police officer and gym obsessive just adds to that heady mix of negative bordering on a bit scary and just generally not a person you would want to invite into an otherwise stress free life.

I know the children themselves complicate things and the lack of a regular child contact agreement restricts my ability to be spontaneous but ultimately it’s him – this dark shadow on my shoulder.

My first ex post marriage was concerned about stress in his life despite assuring me that his feelings towards me didn’t really change – he carried on loving me and fancying me after the break up.

My recent partner is not as in tune with his own feelings and by his own admission buries his head in the sand at times rather than tackling whatever doesn’t sit right with him which kind of explains him telling me that he didn’t even know why he pulled back from intimacy and why I ended up being the one to instigate the break up. His “action” is really just omission. I genuinely don’t think it was because I did anything wrong or because he doesn’t like me or find me attractive any more.

The fact that, during a conversation yesterday he said “I know it’s rubbish now but it’ll get better [Layla}” shows that he is well aware that it is the situation I find myself in that is the problem, not me.

So I’m left wondering how the next phase of my love life is going to go. Do I just have to accept that, if I want a love life at all I’ll probably have to expect to bounce from one short term thing to the next just trying to keep the heartache to a minimum? The alternative is to remain single but I’m afraid I’m hard wired to seek out love affection and intimacy – without those things in my life I have discovered the hard way that I just end up feeling lost and lonely.

All or nothing?

Sometimes I wonder if the dating game isn’t just some kind of self-inflicted school course in self discovery. With each new person and each new experience you gain knowledge of others (in my case, men, with all their gifts and faults) but in addition, you have your own expectations and needs reflected back on you and that can be disconcerting.

The latest person to enter my life is someone who I don’t have illusions about – he’s not the man of my dreams. But he’s OK and that’s good enough for me right now. Or is it?

I know I’m not in the right place to start a long-term, meaningful relationship but I still want to have an emotional and physical connection with someone. For me, that means communicating every day, sharing both the important and insignificant moments, if not real, then virtual kisses in the morning and before falling asleep at night, regular dates both in and out of my home with no date-free hiatus during which you feel like you’re in limbo.

But perhaps this is my problem? Perhaps this is rushing in headlong trying to impose intimacy on a virtual stranger in just a few short weeks. Perhaps this is where my last relationship went wrong (although I tend to think it was the introduction to the children and family life that sparked the beginning of the end there..)

I invited him (the new one) to my house three times in two weeks and each time he said yes and then backed out with some quite feeble excuses at the last minute. The last time this happened I sent him a message saying “you don’t have to keep making excuses, if you don’t want to see me any more please just tell me”. He responded (five hours later) saying “I do want to see you [Layla], just want to take it a bit slower if that’s alright”.

The thing is, I don’t know if it is alright. I said I’d just leave him to invite me out in future but I hate not knowing when/if we will see each other again and it makes me feel like the messages and chats I regularly instigate are not worth my energy. I feel out of control of the situation and it doesn’t seem to fulfil the needs I have.

Are my needs unrealistic and out of proportion and over the top? I might be deluded but I just tend to think of myself as a pretty cool, easy-going, attractive, open, honest, loyal, generous partner and it confounds me when someone holds all of that off at arm’s length. It makes me question them (are they playing the field, are they scared by the very idea of emotional intimacy, do they think that I will turn into some kind of bunny boiler and lock them in the second they cross my threshold?)

And if you tend to agree that my ‘all-in’ attitude is too much, then how does emotional intimacy even begin? Is there this one day where everyone agrees it’s OK to expect a bit more than a sporadic get together? When it’s OK to start holding hands? When you can finally begin to think of yourselves as an actual couple?

 

Having a wobble

If this is how difficult it is to get over a 4 month long relationship then thank god the break up happened when it did because any deeper in and I can’t imagine the devastation.

I think all this dating stuff has brought it home to me. I’d barely even dipped a toe in the murky dating pool when I met my boyfriend and it just seemed like serendipity to be able to bypass all this headwrecking shit that I feel I’m being drawn into again now.

I know it’s early days but somehow being pursued by non starters and ignored by the rest of the actively dating male population seems so much worse than if they never even knew I existed.

My boyfriend boosted my confidence so much – he made me feel so special – he had eyes for nobody else. It’s really hard to go back into this limbo.

Other than about 3 hours yesterday afternoon I’ve been on my own with the kids for the last 48 hours. Today wasn’t too bad – soaring temperatures here in the south of England and my eldest was at a birthday party for 3 hours, then off with his mate from the neighbourhood all afternoon so it was just me and my little cutie.

Still 48 hours with only the briefest interlude to interact with other adults does feel kind of lonely and then to be bombarded with two hours of chat last night during which I could probably have walked away from the phone and he wouldn’t even have noticed, combined with what almost felt like an attack on the things I *did* get to say left my head spinning. I normally sleep pretty well but last night I really struggled and despite not having any alcohol I awoke in the early hours with my head banging like a dehydrated drunk.

This obviously isn’t a healthy direction to be heading in and I probably need to stop.
I think it doesn’t help that I am not only losing three of my normally child free Fridays due to the Easter break but I also have zero child contact dates from the husband going forwards and psychologically that leaves me feeling like I simply have no respite.

In reality I know how lucky I am, how much I have to be grateful for. Being able to blog all this shit out of my head is helpful and I think that so many people must be feeling the same or worse than I do right now. Maybe someone needs to set up an IDA group (Internet Daters Anonymous) where those of us addicted to the potential highs but more often than not wrecked by the emotional lows can get together and support each other through this long dark teatime of the soul…

Man trouble

When someone breaks up with you it’s normally because they’ve got tired of you, right? They’ve fallen out of love, stopped finding you attractive, spent enough time around you to finally be acting on that old adage ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. With the husband, I probably reached that point at least three years before I finally left although there was obviously a lot more to it than that and if you’ve read this blog from the very beginning you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

With the boyfriend it’s different. It was a long enough relationship to form a real bond and become emotionally connected – you know that thing where it seems as though you are both thinking the same thing at the same time even when you’re not together physically?

I raise this subject because it has obviously been harder to move on knowing that our love didn’t actually die. What makes it even worse is the fact that, for the second time he has contacted me and told me that he misses the same things as me – each other’s love, care and physical presence. He told me that I ticked all his boxes and even ones he hadn’t put on his list yet. He told me he intended to visit me, giving me a date and time (at his own instigation, not mine – I neither encouraged nor discouraged him). Then the following day he took it back and apologised for contacting me.

I can’t lie, that was hurtful, frustrating and I feel like it has set my path to emotional recovery back again. I think he cut himself off from me for a reason external to who I am or who we were as a couple and whilst he sticks by his reason it makes emotional disconnect that much more difficult for him even though he is the dumper and not the dump-ee. In moments of weakness – maybe a lonely evening after a couple of beers, he finds himself drawn back but unless I have some clear indication that he’s changed his mind about us as a couple I really need him to stop doing that.

So that’s one down.

The husband is still messing about with dates for contact, telling me that he might not be able to have the kids one day this week which has been on his list for the past month. Whatever his reason I told him that for his contact dates, he is responsible for them and if alternative arrangements need to be made – whether that be a babysitter or grandparents or whatever, then that is up to him. He asked if I have plans which I do in this instance – a visit to Oxford to see some of my family who are over from Ireland – then he laughed at the thought of me missing out – that he has the power to send a ripple effect into my efforts at happiness and a social world that doesn’t involve him.

I know it is up to me to manage him and my own expectations and it’s not the end of the world to cancel plans (and I probably won’t have to) but in the heat of the moment, it upset me.

You’re probably thinking that’s it then, but no, just one more man to throw into the mix. My next door neighbour’s lodger has taken a shine to me and begun to message me via Facebook Messenger. I ignored it before but in a moment of weakness I responded in a very non-committal way last night and despite my best efforts to put him off I ended up agreeing to have a chat with him outside the front door after the kids were in bed – all togged up in my pyjamas and a duffel coat.

So here’s the problem – he clearly likes me but he is totally not my type and I have no interest in having a relationship with him of any kind really but he is being super over-familiar – sent a message with kisses before bed and then first thing in the morning (literally 5.50am). So now I feel like I have one more man whose behaviour I need to manage. It’s suddenly all turning into an unrequited love rectangle. Give me strength!

Perspective

For 36 hours, other than a few snatched periods of restless sleep filled with dark dreams and a few pockets of stability, I cried. It’s only natural – the person with whom you have become deeply intimate, shared every thought, hope and dream, someone with whom you never exchanged a cross word for four solid months – the person who, just 18 hours before sent you a message telling you they loved you with a twinkly heart attached, shows up on your doorstep, not for the planned assignation which you were expecting but with the express purpose of breaking things off.

To put it in perspective, just two weeks before this we had been enjoying a romantic weekend getaway to the coast, holding hands on the sea wall and fossil hunting the pebbled shores of Charmouth. We had discussed summer barbeques, camping trips abroad and family gatherings.

I’ve already explained the reasons he gave for ending ‘us’, so I won’t re-hash here. What I need to express and explore now is how I am adjusting and what comes next. I’ve been living out the five stages of grief in microcosm – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I’ve composed a long text message asking him to continue a relationship of sorts only to delete it almost immediately.

I’ve raged about the broken promises, the over-sensitivity, the hypocrisy of telling someone you still love them but then dropping them like a hot potato, the weakness of a person who can’t understand that love should conquer all or alternatively the duplicity of someone who never really loved or let love in whilst claiming otherwise.

I have mourned for the loss of a loving, supportive partner; I have questioned every word and action wondering whether I gave offence unwittingly at some point and re-hashed conversations during our first few dates when we were still offering unguarded information about the nature of our lives and our hearts.

I’ve considered a bleak future in which I live alone with my challenging children in a void punctuated by the bitter attacks of my emotionally abusive ex-husband. I’ve feared that this experience has starkly demonstrated that, in my situation, a middle-aged single mum with two kids in KS1, I am become ‘untouchable’, that a long-term love may be a concept I need to let go of.

But as the hours pass I see things slightly differently. We were two middle aged people who chanced upon one another; we both happened to be single and allowed an attraction to form. We were no star-crossed young lovers. We weren’t the perfect match, we had elements of compatibility.

I re-calibrated my expectations earlier and realised that the pain inflicted upon me two days ago was undeniably centred upon the cruel and unexpected nature of his decision – the fact that he orchestrated a completely one-sided conversation and took any control over the how, why and when of the break-up out of my hands.

If he truly lacks the capacity to man up and offer unconditional love and support to a partner who clearly has her own struggles, or to find a way to control his own stressors and work things through, then he’s not the man I hoped he was and I accept his decision.

However, I still like him, I still think that he is a good man who was generous and open and empathetic and generally fun to be around, so I decided to send him a text asking if he would be willing to continue seeing each other as friends. I sent that message four and a half hours ago. He still hasn’t responded and now I’m not sure what to think…

Home truths…

Dear Next Door Neighbour,

If you are seriously planning on leaving your girlfriend, please do not do so on my behalf. You may think I am amenable to some kind of relationship with you, but I’m not. If I was a 15 year old girl with no experience of the men of the world then you would probably be in with a good chance of getting me into bed at this point, but believe you me I’ve seen it all, the good the bad and the ugly, and I know whereabouts on the spectrum you fall.

You tell me you know me, but the only things you know are things I’ve volunteered – you’ve never actually asked me about myself – what I enjoy doing, what my hopes and dreams are for the future, what makes me laugh.

Parenting? Unless you have ever had to take full and ongoing responsibility for your child’s well-being you cannot identify and it annoys me that you would suggest otherwise.

We met for the first time just six weeks ago.

I think you are addicted to secrets and lies. Take away that element and I suspect the desire would rapidly wain until the next opportunity showed up and the cycle began again.

I feel that you have detected the vulnerability in me – in my situation, and you want to move in for the kill. But listen, I’m not here for the taking – my children need their mum to be happy, mentally balanced and buoyant and I’ve got evidence – literally right on my doorstep – of the emotional fallout of a relationship with you. Anti-depressants? Panic attacks?

The things you’ve said to me about your girlfriend make my soul ache. Your casual attitude to sex leads me to some disturbing conclusions. The word ‘dysfunctional’ barely scrapes the surface.

Sexual frustration is a small price to pay to protect my heart and keep myself and my children safe.

So please accept my apologies if I’ve sent out mixed signals up to this point. It’s taken me this long to get a grip on what’s really going on here but let me make myself clear – I want no part of it.

Finally, thank you for the kindness and friendliness you have shown me but forgive me if I must question your underlying motives. I hope you can find some peace and happiness in your life one day – without the collateral damage.